Uninformed Redesigns

I was telling this story to someone the other day and thought it might be worthwhile to post it. A few years ago, I found myself on a phone interview with a design manager at Amazon. In the middle of the usual bevy of questions (tell me about your work history, hardest design problem you've tackled, etc.), he asked one that younger me was totally unprepared for:

So, what would you change about the Amazon homepage?

Strangely, I'd never been asked about a company's product in an interview before, probably because I'd been working in early-stage startups my entire career, where companies don't even really have a product yet. I quickly opened the Amazon homepage up on my laptop and looked it over, feeling pretty overwhelmed by the question. Finally, I gave up and told the design manager so:

Well, I could probably tell you about some odd visual choices here and there. But honestly, you guys are Amazon. I'd be super surprised if you hadn't already thought things through and a/b tested the hell out of every module and menu on this page. And without knowing any of the reasoning, what that data says, and what's underperforming, I guess I have to say I wouldn't change anything at all.

There were a few stressful heartbeats of silence. Had I screwed up? Should I have just gone for it? I mean, the page did look pretty terrifyingly bad. There were modules everywhere, products on products on products, a crazy-long left nav that seemed nigh unusable. Why didn't I just critique the design?

That's a great answer, he said, finally.

I got the job.